OPSEU and Ontario Human Rights Commission Jointly Seek Increased Funding for Ontario Jails

Thunder Bay District Jail shot at night. January 23 2020
Thunder Bay District Jail shot at night. January 23 2020

THUNDER BAY / TORONTO – In an unprecedented joint submission the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) and OPSEU Corrections Management-Employee Relations Committee (MERC), which represents front-line correctional staff, are calling on the Ontario government to dedicate funds in the 2020 Budget to address the crisis in Ontario’s correctional system.

The OHRC presented the joint submission as part of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs – Pre Budget Consultations.

The OHRC has visited 10 correctional facilities to speak directly with front-line correctional staff and prisoners and to see conditions first-hand. Prisoners are being held in inhumane conditions with gross overcrowding, inadequate physical and mental healthcare and addictions treatment and no meaningful access to programming or rehabilitation services. At the same time, the front-line correctional staff is working in extremely challenging conditions without the resources, training or support needed to protect their safety or that of prisoners. Most do not feel safe, and many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a direct result of their jobs.

This is why the Commission and correctional staff have come together to call for sufficient dedicated funding for corrections. The joint OHRC–MERC submission identifies concrete investments that would immediately reduce violence and save lives, including:

  • Address overcrowding by using alternatives to pre-trial detention and expanding access to parole, and making sure that custody in corrections is only a last resort
  • Increase front-line staffing levels
  • Support front-line staff by developing a staff mental health strategy and providing enhanced training on areas like human rights, de-escalation techniques, and Indigenous cultural competence
  • Ensure that prisoners can access healthcare and rehabilitation opportunities, including by providing for sufficient healthcare staffing
  • Operationalize alternative units to get people out of solitary confinement
  • Enhance oversight and accountability of correctional institutions
  • Modernize correctional infrastructure and information management systems.

“By making these crucial investments, this government will not only be taking steps to meet its human rights obligations but averting the very real risk of further deaths in custody and physical and psychological harm to correctional officers,” said Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane. “We cannot ignore that a very human cost is being paid every day by not addressing this crisis.”

“An investment in corrections becomes an investment for the safety of correctional staff and for the inmates under our care,” said Chris Jackel, OPSEU Corrections Management-Employee Relations Committee Co-chair. “Assaults against staff and inmate-on-inmate violence has grown exponentially in the last several years – and, without investment in increased staffing models and newer infrastructure, this trend will continue”